No such thing as an ‘update’ presentation - The Pickering Group

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No such thing as an ‘update’ presentation

Sometimes I get told that an update-style presentation is “just sharing information”.

“But why are you sharing,” I’ll ask.

“Well it’s just an update. We’ve always done it this way.”

I bring out my inner toddler. “But why are you updating them? What do you want them to know?”

“I don’t know, the updates.”

“Yes, but why?”

And on and on we go, until we finally crack the real purpose of their talk: the results of a trial, or to generate stakeholder support, or to get alignment from a team on the future of a project.

No presentation really is ever just an ‘update’. There’s always a deeper purpose. And once you know that, you don’t just have a compelling presentation – you also have the chance to go further.

Dig deeper

‘Update’ presentations tend to fall down because, as presenters, we think we’re just there to cover off a few pieces of information and call it a day. We’re often not really sure why we’re talking, or what for. You’re not taking your audience anywhere, and that means two-thirds of what you say is irrelevant!

There’s always a good ‘why’ hiding behind the scenes. So if you’ve been tasked with an ‘update’, start digging for a better brief.

Is there a lack of understanding about a topic among your audience that might be causing some roadblocks? Does a lack of progress on a project signal that some longer-term challenges are emerging? Have you tried a new technique, and it proved successful? Or has it shown you what path to avoid? Does a drop-off in accounts show that you might need to update your strategy? And so on.

Understanding Point B

If you know your audience’s Point A (their starting point) and their future Point B (where you want to get them), then the rest falls into place. 

There are three critical components to a great Point B – the Big Idea, the Outcome, and the Obstacles. 

The Big Idea is the succinct articulation of your core idea or insight, and it should describe the current state or challenge, followed by the action or ask. It pays to be a bit persuasive – yes, even in an informing presentation – since that’ll mean some kind of progress.

The Outcome is what you want your audience to think, feel, and do. Be specific and realistic about how you want your audience to respond, and what kinds of actions you want them to take. And when you want the action by, too, so you’ll know whether you’ve achieved the outcome.

Finally, identify the Obstacles that I’ve spoken about before: what rational (e.g. resources), emotional (biases and moral codes), situational (distracting environments), and personal (reputation) reasons that your audience might not want to go to Point B. And if you know those obstacles, then you can design a better presentation that navigates those with ease.

One more point: Only include material that helps you get your audience to Point B. Is this material going to help get my audience to Point B? Yes – include it. No? Cut it. 

Keep perspective

While you won’t always achieve your desired outcome, it pays to stack odds in your favour. And it pays to have a desired outcome in the first place!

So next time you’re prompted to give an ‘update’ presentation, push back, find that Point B, and fight to get there. Your audience will thank you for sticking to the point – and you might even take them further than they were expecting.

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